Why isn’t that elf dressed in blue?

In November, NPR featured a commentary by Ted Koppel about a recent trip to China. Although it was not the main point of the news byte, what stuck with me was a term he used in an attempt to describe the slow decline of manners. Mr. Koppel labeled this as being partially due to youth and a phenomenon called “generational erosion”. That is, the lack of one generations willingness to embrace the traditions of the previous. We have all witnessed this and are guilty of it now and then as well. Especially at specific life stages, such as when we are teens and think the world just doesn’t get it.

Several years ago I was asked to partake in a design research effort that focused on the question “are today’s educational facilities enabling or hindering today’s educational process”? Last week I had drinks with the lady that lead that initiative. Knowing she is interested in child development, my response to her question of how my kids are doing was different than it might have been if my dad had asked. Not that I want to wish the future away, but I informed her that I am so excited about the innovation we will witness when their generation reaches adulthood because they just don’t understand why “we” do some of the things we do.

For instance I have labeled my son’s group as the “slip-ons”. They slip on their shoes, the shirts, the boots… you name it, it’s all about ease. I’m sure part of this is a discipline issue on my behalf but I don’t have a real good answer when he asked me why he should wear a tie to church. What will happen when they start designing their own homes, their neighborhoods, their legislation? Traditions should only remain if they make sense. We should live a life delicately balanced between thought and emotions right?

All that sounds like an interesting debate. But what’s truly fascinating is that in almost complete contradiction, this is the time of year that all of that gets put on hold. Now is when we tend to forget opposition and forgo questioning. We embrace tradition like a patch of bright orange lichen to a rock. In fact the more traditional it is the more we cherish it. We place the same decorations around the house (in the same locations), we sing the same songs, we prepare the same recipes and we listen to the same music. We look forward to this month, in advance. We knowingly proceed into a state of fiscal hemorrhage in the quest of sharing and giving. And there doesn’t seem to be any generational issues segregating the appeal.

If we take any given element from this season out of context does it still make sense? Unless you associate the smell of balsam fir incense lofting out of a miniature log cabin with thousands of memories of smiling family members and piles of presents, is there really any logic in filling your house with smoke? Would several dozen miniature elves scattered around the place be a bit frightening if there wasn’t some mental synapses taking place between them and the optimism and innocence of youth? The Grinch really is a pretty freaky fella. If it weren’t for decades of watching it as a whole family would we subject our 3 year olds to him? It’s the traditions that link all this together and keep us coming back year after year. It’s amazing what a transformation our homes make this time of year, and it’s for a temporary condition… rooted in memories of our forefathers homes.


(Vintage elves from Restoration Hardware…somethings I guess we just shouldn’t analyze too much)

This is a wonderful and magical season full of promise, open arms and warm embraces (and perhaps a little egg-nog). At some point over the holidays, late at night when the house is quiet and light is dim, think about your earliest memories of this time of year. Look around your living room. Are there traditions there worth repeating? Are there traditions that you should begin? Perhaps this is the only time of year when the seawalls of history deter erosion from time.


3 thoughts on “Why isn’t that elf dressed in blue?

  1. There does seem to be a lot of comfort in traditions especially, I think, around holidays and depending upon your age. I sort of abandoned all of my old religious beliefs and I have to say that Christmas doesn’t mean what it once did to me. I listen to the music, I light some candles but, at heart, I am a Scrooge now and think it is all a lot of trouble. I too wonder what the future holds when we look at our children. My two sons have become really good fathers and seem to be holding on to traditions they once tolerated. They both work in the computer world which makes me wonder what their children will be doing years from now.

  2. My response to the above comment about being a Scrooge is that it’s all in the perspective you take. I, too, have abandoned some traditions and decorations over the years and once thought to be getting “scroogey”. Then I realized, no, this is just what’s right for me in my life right now. I thought of it as simplifying. I don’t need to decorate excessively or follow every past tradition to be ‘in the spirit.’ Hold onto the decorations or traditions that actually mean something to you. And then you still don’t have to do them every year – go every other or every third. Start new traditions with your sons’ families. Take the positive approach.

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